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April 21, 2017

We Built a Playhouse! DIY Workbook & Photos

We built a playhouse!  Last year : )   This post has been in the works for a while now.  Every time I thought about writing it, I wanted to wait on something for the perfect picture - first being the window boxes that needed building, then the boxwood hedge on the sides that needed planting... then the flower boxes that needed re-painting.  Then, I almost delayed even longer to wait for the hydrangea hedge to fill in on each side.  I decided just to go for it and show you a compilation of the playhouse from the past year - some photos in spring, like here, some with the hydrangea in full bloom, and some in the fall (below) with beautiful autumn colors.

We built the playhouse for Emma last spring.  It was our favorite project to date!  It took a solid weekend, and about $600.  We don't have any other play structures or swings in our yard, so it is really our only "kid" activity... besides buckets of bubbles, balls and chalk.

I like Emma to explore the backyard, the garden, the dirt, the flowers and the grass, vs. being entertained by a jungle gym, so we opted to not invest in big kid-only toys in the backyard.  That is, besides the playhouse.  It is a great focal point for the kids when we have other families over, too.  Just going in and out is enough for the littles, and setting up a fort or hideout has entertained the older kids, too... and I don't have to worry about someone falling off the monkey bars.

Here you can see the big Annabelle hydrangeas that take over in the summer.  I can't believe that they will be this big in just a couple of months.

Here is the playhouse at the beginning of fall.

I love the charm it has added to our backyard.  Even at night, Emma lights up the globes inside and the little solar lanterns on the outside give a soft glow.

The DIY Workbook :

This is for those of you interested in building your own playhouse.  The skill level is minimumal!  Mike and I enjoy building things, but we are not always happy with how they turn out - this is the first project that we are both 100% thrilled with.  The imperfections are perfectly suitable to a playhouse : ). The only real tools we needed besides those listed is a power screwdriver, circular and miter saw.  You can rent those from Home Depot, if you don't own them.  

Emma and I added flower boxes, similar to the ones we made for the front of our real house.  You can see that DIY post, here >

I'd love to hear if you plan to build your own playhouse, as I've received so many requests to get these plans up on the blog!

April 18, 2017

Formula for Fresh Dinners for Spring | Grilled + Salad + Vegetable/Pasta

So many times our dinners are just like this - an assembly of various recipes that aren't really recipes.  I find that sometimes I just need an idea of what to have for dinner - something different than Pizza, Tacos, Burgers, Spaghetti, etc... the familiar rundown.  So, I hope these snapshots of our dinner table will give you an idea of how to put together a simple, but fresh dinner this week.

Maybe it is the onset of warmer weather (or maybe that I put on shorts for the first time in a while...yikes!), but I've been craving lighter, fresher dinners.  In the cooler months we do a lot of one-pot stews, heavy pastas, braised meats and potatoes for dinner.  They are the type of dinner that makes you want to put on your PJs and settle in for the night.  Now that April is here, I want fresh, crunchy colorful dinners that don't weigh me down.  Basically, I'm trying to add more colorful vegetables and steer clear of the full (giant) plate of pasta dinners that we've been having all winter long.

This is my new (fresher) formula for dinner :
- Grilled Steak or Chicken (could also do fish or shrimp...)
- Side Salad
- Vegetable Packed Side/Pasta

This is what we had last night for dinner :

Sliced Grilled Steak

Panzanella Tomato Salad

Sliced Avocados with Sea Salt & Pepper

Wilted Lettuce Salad with Bacon  

Potted Salad Garden

A couple of weeks ago we planted this "Salad" Garden in one of my big pots on the gravel patio.  It has been the easiest gardening adventure yet.  Emma did all of the planting and she is always eager to go and "harvest" some lettuce, spinach or arugula for dinner.  It should keep regenerating throughout the season - giving us no excuse not to enjoy a fresh salad every night.

We planted :

Leaf Lettuce
Baby Micro Greens

I am looking forward to planting the rest of our garden next week.  I'm planning for tomatoes, herbs, squash and melons.  Wish us luck...!

In a month or so we will probably be adding grilled sweet corn and sliced tomatoes to this mix!

April 12, 2017

Cheddar, Chive & Bacon Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches

This is not a new concept.  At all.  However, the only breakfast sandwiches I've made at home before were with toast or croissants.  I'm not sure why, but I never got around to making them with biscuits until we recently had them at a new local spot (Heirloom Bakery) that specializes in biscuits.  They served theirs with a Cheddar Chive version with bacon, eggs and cheese.  We had it about a month ago and I've been craving them ever since.  The line at Heirloom Bakery is often out the door and around the corner on Saturday mornings, so the solution was to recreate it at home.  The bonus is that I get to enjoy it in my robe : )

This gets even easier by making a big batch of biscuits (maybe fore Chicken Stew with Chive Biscuits?) then keeping them in the freezer for easy reheating.  

Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches

Cheddar Biscuits (option : add 1 Tbsp of chopped Chives)
Baked Bacon 
Skillet Eggs
Cheddar Cheese

Baked Bacon 

I bake bacon on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or foil.  Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes.  Flip mid-way through.  When you take it out of the oven, pour the fat off.  (I pour  mine into a glass container and then into a plastic bag after cooling).  Let bacon cool on paper towel lined plate.

Skillet Eggs

I make 1 egg per sandwich.  In a skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter.  Crack two eggs in a bowl.  Add a tablespoon of water per egg and a pinch of salt.  Beat with fork.  Pour eggs in skillet and cook on low.  Use a spoon to stir eggs around for first 2 minutes of cooking, then let firm up.  When they are fully cooked, Cut into sandwich sized pieces with spatula.  

This is a very entertaining friendly recipe.  You can make the biscuit dough in advance, cut them into rounds (with my new Copper Biscuit Cutter!) and put them in the refrigerator the night before.  In the morning bake them.

This Baking Sheet ($8 each) is a new addition to the store this season.  They are an absolute staple in my home, along with the Parchment Sheets that fit perfectly.  When used together, the parchment keeps anything from sticking, and makes cleaning up non-existent.  Seriously, all you have to do is rinse the pan.

I am also carrying Small Baking Sheets ($7) that are good for small batches of anything, especially when oven space is at a premium.

I love this recipe - they are so light and fluffy and dense at the same time.

To assemble, split the biscuit in half, top with egg, cheese and bacon.  To make in advance, keep warm in 250 degree oven covered with foil for 30-40 minutes.  They reheat great, too.

Freezer Containers with Biscuits

The container all the way in the back has three biscuits stacked in it.  You might think it would be easier to keep them in a plastic bag, but plastic bags tend to get messy in the freezer - then the biscuits get broken up.  

April 11, 2017

Flashback : Lilac Season | Mr. Darcy Stopping to Smell the Flowers | Lilacs in Concord, Ma.

I'm revisiting this post today from 2012... and adding to it a bit : )

There was a time about 20 years ago when I wrote this post (kidding, only seems like that long ago) that I had what seemed to be all the time in the world to wonder around with Mr. Darcy and observe.  I was pregnant with Emma and I would go on long walks that lasted hours, all through town to watch the changing seasons.  When we were living in Concord, Mass. I was awed by the abundance of lilacs everywhere all over that old fashioned town.  This walkway/front hedge was one of my favorites.

Yesterday, Emma and I visited small hidden patch of Lilac bushes in the woods near our house that I had discovered years ago.  I hadn't been there since Mike and I moved into this neighborhood (the first time) 7 years ago.  We clipped an armful and stuck our noses in  them the entire walk home.  

When I bought this Watering Pitcher for the store, I knew it would be perfect for big, wild bunches of lilacs... and peonies, and hydrangea.

They make this entire room smell so good.

I also found some Mrs. Meyers Lilac dish soap, counter spray and hand soaps at target... and bought several of each : )

I wish lilac season lasted longer, but so glad it is around for a late Easter this year.

Today, on our morning walk, Mr. Darcy and I decided to stop and smell the flowers.  He was attracted to the pansies and pussy willows at the Mainstreet Cafe, while I was drawn to the lilacs.  I've been meaning to photograph the lilacs for a week or so, but the weather hasn't been cooperating.  With rain in the forcast for the next five days, I decided to just go for it.  

Concord, being an old town settled in the 1635, has many old neighborhood streets and homes that remain from the Colonial and Victorian era.  Lilacs were especially popular in the Victorian era and were a staple in landscape and garden design.  In today's landscapes,  they seem to have lost their popularity, unfortunately.   

Look at this glorious hedge - I can't imagine how old it must be.

In the past, gardens were more seasonal than they are today - groves of cherry trees, hedges of lilac berries, and cutting gardens full of tulips and peonies.  Now, landscapes are designed to be 'maintenance free' and look good all year long.  While this might seem smart in our busy lives, I think everyone is missing out on enjoying the short blooming times of each seasonal flower.

This light pink lilac is so sweet peaking through the picket fence. 

These full lilac blooms are from our very own bush.

Our old house was full of seasonal flowers - beginning with daffodils, hyacinth, tulips, pear and dogwood trees, magnolia, lilacs, peonies and ending the season with hydrangea.  I loved it.  In our new house, the landscaping was completely overgrown, so everything was torn out and started from scratch (except an old flagstone patio we discovered - a great surprise).  I miss having the surprises of what each week might bring, but it has been fun to select exactly what we want.

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